Monday, October 29, 2018

As Welcome as the Flowers

Do you ever have a song pop into your head and get stuck there? Sometimes last week “Mockingbird Hill” came to me from out of the blue. It had been years, maybe even decades since I’d heard the song, yet I remembered most of the tune, and fragments of the lyrics, but only fragments. I thought about looking up who sang it, and perhaps the lyrics that I couldn’t remember, but hadn’t gotten around to it when I heard the news of the horrible shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburg. There are not words to express all that I felt upon hearing the news. I still cannot find a way to say something about it, yet I feel compelled to do so, of how it brought back memories of when I felt a similar sadness.  
            I grew up in a small town in Alabama, and knew only one Jew, the husband of a dear family friend, so dear that I always called them Aunt Grace and Uncle Leonard. When I was a teenager we moved to Montgomery. In the large high school that I attended I made many new friends, some of them Jewish. One morning, as I walked down the walkway to the school I was handed a pamphlet, which I stuck in my books without looking at it. When I took my seat in homeroom, I realized that the girl in front of me was crying. Our teacher asked if any of us had also gotten the pamphlet, then walked up and down the rows collecting them before most of us could read them. She tore the papers as she disposed of them saying “I’ll not have such anti-Semetic trash in this room.” It was my first exposure to anything of that kind. Why would someone hate anyone because they were Jewish? It made no sense to me, but I knew this was very hurtful to my friend in front of me, in a way I couldn’t imagine.
            In 2008 a fatal shooting occurred in a Tennessee church that I had visited. Until then I had never been concerned about my safety. In my home church, I sat near the back, across from the doors leading into the sanctuary. For many months following the shooting, when someone unknown to me entered those doors, I became anxious, even fearful at times. Gradually that fear went away, but hearing the recent news has been unsettling. Even more disturbing has been the suggestion that we need armed guards at the places where we worship, our sacred spaces. If we are not safe there, where?
            I was thinking about all this when the song popped into my head again Sunday afternoon. The fragment of the lyric that I hadn’t remembered until then: "…there’s peace and good will. You’re welcome as the flowers on Mockingbird Hill.”
            Would that it could be so – that we could make our country a place of peace and good will where people are welcome, as welcome as the flowers on Mockingbird Hill.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Lament for a Store

I hadn’t expected my eyes to fill with tears or to choke up, almost unable to express my thanks to the person behind the pharmacy counter. Such sadness was unanticipated, yet there it was.

            I don’t remember exactly when or where I met the DeBortoli family. But it was about forty-four years ago around the swimming pool at the South YMCA where our young sons proudly showed off their skills learned in the Tadpole swimming lessons. It wasn’t long before I learned that Jim Debortoli was the pharmacist at a neighborhood pharmacy. Not only because of the friendship, but also because he offered something special: free delivery of prescriptions, I immediately transferred our business there. I usually went to the store, but after sitting through a doctor’s appointment with a sick child, it was a wonderful to be able to take said sick child home, knowing the medication called in by the doctor would arrive at my door shortly.

            Over the years the name of the store changed as Jim’s independent store was bought by larger drug stores. The store even changed location within the same small shopping center at some point. But the one constant was that our friend Jim remained the pharmacist, the smiling face behind the counter. Others joined him as the business grew, and I came to know many of them, especially after Jim’s untimely death several years ago. But to me it was always Jim’s store.

            In recent months, the pharmacy department was bought by Walgreen’s. The transition seemed to go smoothly. I still went to the same counter where I was waited on by the same staff. Today that all changed. I’d received the letter welcoming me to Walgreen’s, explaining the transfer of my records, et cetera, so I knew that as of today I would no longer go to Rite-Aid because it was also closing, but to Walgreen’s in a different location.

            What now? What happens to our neighborhood shopping center now that one of the main anchors is closing? I’ll adjust. I’ll drive a little farther away from my house. I don’t have a choice. Some might say “It’s just a store.” But to those of us who’ve been going there for over forty years it wasn’t just a store.  

            The Walgreen's pharmacist at the new location welcomed me today and explained the things I would need to do to be fully registered in their system. I’m sure the service there will be fine, and I’ll get to know her, and if I hadn’t gotten so emotional I might have been able to tell her that I was crying over the loss of a relationship that’s lasted for over half of my life. Such things, even if “just a store” are precious and are mourned for at their passing.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Robert Kennedy

On November 22, 2013 I posted something in connection with remembering the death of John Kennedy. It also contained the following:

"As powerful as that memory remains, it was the news of the death of Robert Kennedy that has the most connection for me. My grandmother was visiting, and the two of us were watching television together when the news broke. She gasped and said, "Oh, poor Ethel, with all those children." To understand fully, you need to know that my mother, the eldest of five children, was only eight years old when her father was killed. When a former employee of her father came to the door, she and her brothers clustered around Grandmother and heard her tell the visitor when my grandfather would return from an appointment. The man left, but walked only a short distance from the house, where he waited out of sight until my grandfather returned. He shot him at close range. My grandmother never mentioned how difficult it must have been for her, not only lose the love of her life, but to rear five children in a depression era world. In her softly spoken "Oh, poor Ethel with all those children" she revealed perhaps more than she realized. Her expressed empathy came from an understanding that most of us will never understand."

Hearing of the events planned earlier this week  to commemorate the anniversary of Robert Kennedy's death reminded me of my earlier post, but mostly of that hour or so with grandmother. Like many, we were glued to the television upon hearing the news.  Grandmother's life was very different from that of Ethel Kennedy. She was never in the spotlight, nor did she have the same financial resources. In almost every way they had nothing in common, yet in that awful moment of hearing the news on television, my grandmother felt an instant connection to Mrs. Kennedy. 

Grandmother died four years later, and we never again talked about hearing the news that day or about the day my grandfather was murdered. Now I wish I had asked her more about her life, but even if I had, she probably wouldn't have talked about the bad parts. She was truly a remarkable woman in her own quiet way. She lived the rest of her life in the same house, alone once her children moved away after they finished college or married. 

 On that day as we watched the news, it didn't occur to me that my grandfather had been killed almost forty-four years earlier. Realizing it now makes Grandmother's quiet utterance seem more remarkable. The time that had elapsed vanished, her reaction was instant as she remembered what had happened to her and what the years ahead might hold for Mrs. Kennedy.

But now, fifty years later, I can still hear her voice in my head, as clearly as if she were seated next to me on the sofa as she was that day. As I remember her sympathetic expression and all the unspoken things it revealed, I marvel once again at the courage with which she lived. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Oh, for Answers

There it is, available on Amazon, for $9.80, with free two-day shipping for Prime members. The Retro Edition Magic 8 Ball By Mattel. According to the description it “has all the answers to all of your most pressing questions!” I’m not sure what the difference between the Retro Edition and the regular edition might be other than the price. The regular edition is only $6.81, but does not ship free. The Tie Dye Edition is pricier at $17.22. Other than package design, they all seem to be alike, although it is fun to imagine the different answers they might give – surely the Tie Dye version will answer “Groovy, man” at least once.
            Not to be outdone by Mattel, KickFire Classics has issued a Magic Trump Ball. I shudder to think what it answers, but the site mentions that the 20 possible answers include: “You’re fired.” “Don’t be an idiot.” “Do it. I’ll pay the legal fees.” “Every poll says yes.” Somehow those don’t seem like the answers I need. Since I love books, a few years ago when Carol Bolt’s Book of Answers, a hardback version of a Magic 8 Ball was published, I bought it immediately. But I’m about to toss it, because it hasn’t given very satisfactory answers lately, despite the fact that it offers not twenty, but over 150 answers.
            What brought on my perusal of answering devices on Amazon, other than the fact that I’ve always been fascinated by the silly toy? Too many sleepless nights, or when sleep did come it was fraught with dreams, almost nightmares, reflecting my restlessness and indecision. I’m not sure what brings on the restlessness, but over the years I’ve experienced it several times. Going shopping – buying something foolish, booking a ticket to Italy, doing something drastic with my hair (yes, I became a blonde on more than one occasion,) or rearranging the furniture in my house has usually taken the edge off.
            I think it has something to do with the ticking of my biological clock – not the one about having babies – this clock is more of a reaction to how fast the years have flown by and the frequent reminders by someone who tells me often that we are now, in fact, OLD. I have not been ready to accept that, but comparing my age to that of my parents and how their lives changed once they were the age I am now has been a sobering experience.
            How many years do I have left? Beyond a guess or estimate, there is no certainty. I know that the years I have left are a mere fraction in comparison to my current age, and if they go by as quickly as recent decades have flown by, not long enough. It doesn’t weigh heavily on me that it is too late to do some things. I’ve been more active in the past, but I was never particularly athletic or daring, so it doesn’t bother me at all that it is too late for me to take up bungie jumping, mountain climbing, snow skiing, or other such pursuits.
            However, it is becoming apparent that I need to move. I love my place, but a few accidents, injuries, or other concerns have made me realize that I need a one-story dwelling sooner or later – probably sooner rather than later. Even if I can avoid any more injuries, the stairs remind me daily that these knees aren’t going to get any younger. I think I’d like something other than just different walls, but the adventure of living somewhere that I’ve never lived before. It’s not that I’m unhappy in Montgomery. Except for a few years I’ve lived here almost all of the last sixty years.
            I’ve pored over the emails a real estate agent in Fairhope sends me. I’m not sure when I became infatuated with the idea of moving there, but every time I visit the urge gets stronger. So why haven’t I done it? Inertia is such a strong force. Laziness is a bad habit. Then throw in the indecisiveness factor. In addition, such a move requires that the universe make three things coincide: the right house or condo, the right price, and the right timing. So far the planets haven’t lined up, Mercury is in retrograde, or something. The indecision factor outweighs them all. I don’t even like choosing what to wear each day. I love football season, not so much for the game and friends gathering to watch together, but because it simplifies my wardrobe selection: an Auburn shirt with a pair of jeans every Saturday of the season.
            I’ve not been a Punk Rock fan, or of the group The Clash, but the refrain of their song Should I Stay or Should I Go? keeps running around in my head. Of course they are singing about a relationship, not relocating, but their question echoes my quandary. Obviously I’m too old for this to be a mid-life crisis, but something is eating at me. Ticking clock? One last adventure? The pull of salt water? As I write this I glance at the quilted art piece hanging above my desk. It features a quotation from Isak Dinesen, “The cure for everything is salt water – tears, sweat, or the sea.” But is salt water the cure for what ails me now?
             Maybe I should order that Retro Edition Magic 8 Ball. Amazon promises delivery in only two days. It might answer my “most pressing question.” And the great thing about the Magic 8 Ball is that if one doesn’t like the answer, the ball can be shaken over and over until an acceptable answer is given. If it doesn’t, there’s always the option of hurling it across the room. I hear that throwing things, although not the best choice, can alleviate frustration, at least for the moment – until how to repair the wall becomes the question.  
 Postscript: I wrote this around September 15, on September 23 I made an offer on a condo in Fairhope. It was accepted!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Tribute for Daddy on Father's Day

The ads for DNA testing from Ancestry finally got to me, and I sent in my $99.00. Following the directions in the kit, I spit into the vial and returned it for testing. As promised, it wasn’t long before I received the results. There weren’t really any big surprises. 98% Western Europe and Great Britain, consistent with the known genealogy records from my family, links to ancestors from France, England, and Scotland.
            There were things that the test didn’t mention. That I get my body type from my mother’s, or more accurately, my maternal grandmother’s, side of the family. There is no question that my body proportions are like the Christopher side of the family, just as there is no mistaking that little of my physical appearance came from my father’s side of the family. 
            But what about the things not as easily explained by genes and chromosomes? Perhaps it is easy to explain why I sound so like my mother that people often confused us over the phone. After all, it was her voice I heard while in the womb, and Mother’s voice that I imitated learning to speak. As I get older I also find myself saying things much as she would have, using the same phrases, some surfacing from deep in my memory.
            I exhibit few of my father’s obvious physical characteristics – no lean frame, no narrow feet, no blue eyes, not the same hair, even my hands the shape of my mother’s. Because of some difficulties when I was born it was determined that I needed a blood transfusion, and was transfused with my father’s blood, so I know that his blood literally ran in my veins early on. But where are the other similarities? 
            A friend riding with me pointed out something I’d never noticed about myself. When driving, I tend to move my thumbs on the steering wheel almost constantly. I’d never given it a thought, but when it was brought to my attention I knew where it came from. Daddy. But when and how had I picked up the habit? I’m pretty sure DNA wasn’t responsible, nor had I tried to imitate the behavior. Given a choice, I’d prefer to have Daddy’s tendencies for neatness and perfection.

Because it seems to get on the nerves of my passengers, I try to control my thumbs when others ride with me. But when driving alone, I let my thumbs do their thing. When I glance at my hands, now covered with age spots just like Daddy’s and my thumbs doing their dance, I smile and am thankful, not for age spots and dancing thumbs, but for this small reminder of Daddy, of the wonderful father he was. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

How Old is Old?

After shamelessly posting a photo of the certificate (but not the check!) I received for the award I received at the Tennessee Mountain Writers Conference last weekend, some who sent congratulatory messages expressed interest in reading my submission. So, with sincere apologies to my doctor, who really was nicer than I made him sound, here it is:

Theirs was what might now seem an unusual household, but at that time it wasn’t uncommon in our small town for extended family members of different generations to live together. The house belonged to Mr. Aubrey and his wife whom, following the southern custom, I always called “Miss” Inez. In addition to them, the other occupants of the house were her mother, whom everyone called Cousin Lizzie, and her brother, Horace. The men worked, Miss Inez kept house and took care of Cousin Lizzie.
In the afternoons Cousin Lizzie liked to sit on the front porch, holding court, as the first generation, therefore oldest, resident of the house. Although she talked little, she liked having visitors, so Mother and I would often walk across the street to sit with her. Miss Inez and Mother usually sat in the swing, while I sat in a rocking chair nearby.
I don’t remember all the afternoons we spent there, however, one afternoon from the summer of 1952 or 1953 has always stuck with me because of one thing Miss Inez said. Mother was enjoying her favorite afternoon treat, an ice cold Coca-Cola, while Miss Inez read an article from The Alabama Journal, the afternoon newspaper. I don’t remember what the article was about, only that when Miss Inez, reading aloud, came to “an elderly woman of 62” she stopped, lowered the paper, turned to my mother, and exclaimed, “elderly woman of 62? Well, I certainly didn’t know I was elderly!”
They all seemed old to me because I was nine or ten at the time. Although Mother was only around 37 or 38, like most preteens I thought my mother was old. Miss Inez didn’t give her exact age, but from the way she reacted to the article, she must have been 62 or older. Except for church or special occasions, Miss Inez wore cotton house dresses, covered by a bib apron. She had always seemed old to me, but not an old old, and certainly not elderly. Like a grandmother, she always had teacakes in the cookie jar and was exceedingly patient in teaching me to cook and to grow African violets. However, Cousin Lizzie always seemed elderly to me because she wore her long white hair coiled in a braid across her head in a manner only worn by women long past their youth. She was also confined to an old fashioned wooden wheelchair with a tall caned back, a visible confirmation that she was unmistakably elderly.
The memory of that afternoon came back to me recently. After a fall, I found myself hobbling in on a walker to be treated by a very young orthopedist. He was kind enough not to use the term elderly, but from his recommendations of modifications I needed to make, he obviously thought I was.  To be pronounced old by a doctor who had never seen me before was exasperating. Didn’t he understand that I was in enough pain already without that added blow? Even though it really was a fluke accident, he didn’t exactly say it was stupid of me, he obviously thought I had absolutely no business using a stepstool for any purpose and should have known better. How dare he imply that I was too old…well, too old for almost everything, and might need assistance? Didn’t they tell him before he finished med school that just because I might be the age of his grandmother that I certainly was nowhere near elderly.
Actually, since I’m more than a decade older that the woman described as elderly in the article Miss Inez read, I suppose I am, in fact elderly. But I don’t feel old, much less elderly. I’ve accepted the term Senior Citizen, perhaps because I was so fond of going to school that senior status sounded good. And then there is the matter of senior discounts: 20% off clothing on the first Tuesday of the month at Belk, a 5% discount on groceries at Publix on Wednesday, free coffee at some fast food places, and so on. I’ve often quipped that I claim my senior status when respect, convenience, or money is involved.
But elderly? How can it be that the words elder and elderly convey such different meanings to me? Elder Statesman or Elder of the church – both of these seem to endow wisdom upon and respect for the so-named person. Yet elderly seems to mean that the person is frail, perhaps beginning to “lose it” and is old, not in a good way.
So what words would I accept to describe this stage of my life when none seem to fit? Perhaps the problem is that there has been a change in what is expected of us as we age. Neither Miss Inez nor any of the women of her day were expected to look good in a bathing suit, go to the gym, or engage in any activity such as running, playing tennis or golf, or anything that might make them break a sweat. She definitely was not supposed to wear the same fashions that younger women chose. Although it never occurred to me then to give a thought to what went on in their bedrooms, in retrospect, I realize that women of their age at that time weren’t expected appear or act sexy. The expectation was that they would age, gracefully, of course, and allow wrinkles to develop without delusions that a cream would restore their skin to the dewy texture of when they were twenty. They wore lace dresses for special occasions, and had the beautician rinse their white hair in yellow-combating solutions, which if not applied carefully, tinted their hair lavender or blue. They smelled sweetly of soap, dusting powder, and rose water.
More than labeling words stands in my way. When I think of my role models, my grandmothers, my mother, and women like Miss Inez, their then age-appropriate lives and fashions no longer fit for my generation. However, no one told us how to make the leap from their grandmotherly settling into their seventies, eighties, and nineties to what society seems to demand now. So I’m caught unprepared.
My life is little like that of Miss Inez, and for the most part that is a good thing. But once in a while, I’d like to be like that sweet, self-assured woman relaxing from her daily chores, enjoying the company of four generations sitting on the front porch. We definitely had one thing in common, even though my realization came many decades later. We both found it incredulous that at sixty-two we were considered elderly.
There are many reasons I wish she were still here. If I could visit with her again on the front porch, I’d like to ask her more about getting old, and for her teacake recipe. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Pleasure of Warm Water

This morning I had a shower. Doesn’t sound like a big event, does it? But it was my first shower in three and a half weeks.
An incautious stretch to reach something on a high shelf had sent me crashing to the floor when the stepstool shot out from under me. I’m very, very thankful that my injuries were not worse. But the tear when I dislocated a toe on my right foot required stitches and padded bandaging that couldn’t get wet, along with a boot to relieve the pressure while it healed. That, along with the injury to my knee on my left leg meant that there was no way I could have a shower. Believe me, if putting a plastic bag over it would have worked, I would have done it. But a having a slippery plastic bag on one foot and not being able to lift the other one to clear the edge of the tub because of the knee injury seemed like a sure setup for another fall. My only recourse was to bathe off as best I could using only a bathcloth. My children and friends have various names, some too crude to mention, for this method of ablution. I was glad I could manage that, but compared to a shower, it was unsatisfying.
For centuries people bathed from a basin or sink. For many of my younger years my family had only a tub, no shower. But once there was an option I stopped taking tub baths, favoring instead a nice warm shower. When I told a friend that I was going tent camping in a national forest on my honeymoon she warned me that this might not be my best decision. “You’re a hot shower, flush toilet girl if ever there was one,” she said. Oh, how right she was.
My daily shower had become such a given that I didn’t give it a second thought – until I had to do without one. Perhaps the longing for a shower when one was not possible made me appreciate it more today. Or perhaps it was because I have recently started reading a book on mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hahn, but the “ordinary” shower today was far from ordinary. The warm water through my hair as I rinsed away the shampoo, the soothing cascade of water over my body, the sweet fragrance of a favorite body wash, the feel of the mesh scrubbie exfoliating dead skin from my unbandaged foot – all were wonderful. Not wonderful in the usual trite way in which we have come to overuse the word, but as the word really means, full of wonder. Each part perhaps ordinary, yet exquisite, when mindfully appreciated.